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11 February 2014, 11:35 | Updated: 11 February 2014, 11:50
A man who killed a woman whilst drinking and driving has been jailed for four years.
Matthew Ritchie was seen driving his Hyundai Santa Fe in the wrong lane of the A146 at Hales before crashing head on into a Toyota Aygo driven by Dawn Bartlett. 61-year-old Mrs Bartlett was critically injured in the collision in the early hours of Saturday 27th April 2013 and died in hospital the next day.
Ritchie, aged 38 and of Morris Road in North Walsham, had been drinking in Horsford on the evening of Friday 26 April. At 2.15am he called police to report his car missing, but called back 10 minutes later to say he had located it and it wasn’t stolen. He then left the pub and at around 3.20am came up behind a van on the A146 travelling towards Beccles. The occupants of the van saw him driving erratically and in the wrong lane before overtaking and then driving into the Toyota.
When emergency services arrived at the scene, Ritchie claimed to have been having a conversation on his mobile phone and was trying to find the phone, which officers later found between the passenger seat and centre console in his Hyundai where it could not have fallen during the crash. He was taken to hospital and blood tests showed he was over the drink drive limit.
A police examination of the vehicles found neither were faulty. An examination of Ritchie’s phone concluded that he was most likely using Blackberry Messenger at the time of the collision. Ritchie had had his driving licence revoked in December 2012.
Ritchie admitted causing the death of Mrs Bartlett by dangerous driving and today, Tuesday 11 February 2014, was sentenced to four years in prison. He was further disqualified from driving for six years and must take an extended retest.
Steve Matthews of Norfolk’s Serious Collision Investigation Team said: "Ritchie should not have been behind the wheel of a car on the night of the collision; despite having lost his licence and drinking alcohol, he drove anyway.
"Ritchie called police twice before driving away from the pub in Horsford. Although he sounded coherent officers were concerned that he might have been drink driving so police units in the area were alerted to his vehicle and checks were made, including in Horsford and at his home address, to try to find him but sadly he was not located.
"His use of a mobile phone whilst driving compounded his alcohol consumption, and his reckless actions have cost a family their mother and also caused lasting distress to the witnesses to the collision. I would like to extend my sympathies to Mrs Bartlett’s family at this difficult time.”
Head of the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing Unit, Chief Inspector Chris Spinks, said: "This case starkly illustrates the dangers of drinking and driving and being distracted by a mobile phone. These are two priorities for the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing Unit and officers carry out regular patrols to stop drivers and take action where necessary where drink driving and distraction are suspected, along with speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.”